In my column today for the Financial Times, I respond to the unsettling suggestion (to me, anyway) that Barack Obama could turn out to be the Tony Blair of American politics:
With eight wins out of eight in the most recent contests and another expected on Tuesday in Wisconsin, Barack Obama is for the first time the clear favourite to win the Democratic nomination. His support continues to broaden: beyond the affluent, who liked him from the outset; beyond blacks, who switched wholesale from Hillary Clinton starting in South Carolina; lately even to the white working class and Latinos.
Those are the constituencies that Mrs Clinton is relying on to win the crucial primaries in populous Texas and Ohio on March 4. As that showdown approaches, contrary to Mrs Clinton’s claim to be the better manager, Mr Obama is running a more effective campaign, with more and better organisers in the right places and more and better advertising at the right times. The Clintons thought it would be all over by now: their planning beyond “Super Tuesday” was perfunctory and they are short of money. It is too soon to count Mrs Clinton out. She is nothing if not tenacious. But for the moment, she and her team are scrambling.
As I argued last week, this is good news for the Democrats. Mr Obama is so much the better candidate that I find the party’s hesitation difficult to credit. But I made the case for Mr Obama in terms of vision, temperament and appeal to uncommitted voters, not policy – where his differences from Mrs Clinton are slight. A fair comment, lodged by many readers, is that, as president, he would be judged by results, not speeches. The greater his appeal at the start, the bigger the disillusionment to come. In a low blow, Tony Blair was mentioned. With that, I knew how Mrs Clinton felt as she watched the results come in from Virginia.
Unlike a British prime minister with a big parliamentary majority, a US president is not an elected dictator. When it comes to taxes and spending, Congress legislates – not the White House. The president is a shaper of opinion, a builder of consensus and a broker of agreement. Mr Obama, one may plausibly hope, has those skills. The question remains: to what end?
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